When Paul Ranis got a call from the owner of a large Canadian company asking to retain him for its legal employment work, Ranis asked an obvious question: “How did you find me?” The man replied with the name of the person who referred him. After a few minutes, it clicked. “Oh, that’s A.J’s dad,” Ranis responded.
When Ranis is attending his daughter’s soccer matches or his son’s math competition, he extends a handshake to other parents and builds the kind of relationships that often lead to new business. “The opportunity for business development is much greater than through a typical meet-and-greet where you will see 50 attorneys and everyone is handing out their business cards,” Ranis says.
For parents balancing work and family, our children’s activities are fertile ground for fostering relationships that develop into business. When work already occupies a large part of our lives, in this changed world, rainmaking takes new approaches. No longer is business development only a time-consuming activity that requires weekends schmoozing on the golf course. It’s a highly valued skill that is being done at our children’s school fundraisers, at our gyms and even from our home offices. “There are many ways to be successful at business development,” Sallie Krawcheck says. “You don’t have to conform to how others are doing it.”
Those who have a plan often are able to hone in on what kind of business they are after and where those clients or customers circulate. “If you know your niche and who your ideal client is, you can focus your efforts on who needs you and wants you,” says Yuliya LaRoe, a business coach for lawyers who recently spoke to the Florida Association of Women Lawyers’ Miami-Dade chapter about business development.
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LaRoe says business development doesn’t have to be time-consuming to be effective. Rather than spending evenings at cocktail parties, mine your existing contacts. Who might you want to reconnect with? Who can refer you business? Think about former co-workers, classmates, neighbors, friends, people in your book club or poker group who would want what you offer, says Marla Grant, a South Florida business coach who also participated in the FAWL workshop: “A lot of us are sitting on a gold mine, and we don’t even realize it.”
Business development can happen from the comfort of your desk with a quick email. “It’s about reminding people what you do and saying something like, ‘If you have these issues, call me, I can help you with that,’” Grant says. Having built a giant contact list, Sallie Krawcheck has no qualms about mining her connections. “Business development is selling, and it’s easier to sell to people who already know you than complete strangers,” says Krawcheck, owner of the women’s networking community Ellevate, former president of the global wealth and investment management division at Bank of America and former CFO of Citigroup. Sometimes, Krawcheck will send out “Hi, how are you?” emails, and other times she will take it a step further and ask for business. In fact, she finds it easier to ask for business by email than face-to-face: “I feel bolder.” However, the email always reflects what she can do for the other person: “It has always got to be about them.”
Use your hobbies: Successful rainmakers are passionate about multiple and diverse interests and use those passions as way to connect with people and drum up business. A Miami banker invites his clients to concerts with him, using it as an opportunity to deepen relationships and see his favorite bands. “The key with rainmaking is to incorporate it into your life rather than letting it take over,” he says. Melanie Smith, a Miami lawyer, attends church on the weekends and says she hadn’t considered the people she encountered there as potential clients — until she met the general counsel of a company and used the common ground to deepen the relationship: “I had always thought of my weekend time as personal time, not for business development.”
Make speeches. Speech-making can be an important part of rainmaking. It allows you to get in front of larger crowds of potential clients and position yourself as someone they would want to hire. Tracey H. Stokes, a Fort Lauderdale plastic surgeon, says she speaks at least once a month at hospital or community events and recently chaired a countywide fundraiser where she gave a speech. “The repetition of hearing and seeing your name makes you familiar to people, and they trust you more because you are not an unknown entity,” she says. “People do come in after they hear me speak.”
Join groups: Years ago, men bonded and formed inner circles at country clubs or lunch clubs. Today, there are all kinds of professional organizations, advocacy groups and even fitness clubs where people are introducing each other to prospects who can throw business their way. When Maggie Wilderotter, chairwoman of Frontier Communications, called the best dealmakers she knew to pull of an acquisition, she tapped women she met through women’s professional organizations. Stokes, the plastic surgeon, belongs to a grassroots organization of female doctors who get together three times a year to socialize and network: “We’ve created a directory by specialties, and we’ve come to rely on one another for referrals.”
Use meal time effectively. The people who are most successful at business development do not commit “random acts of lunch,” says Sara Holtz, founder of ClientFocus, a coaching company that helps lawyers become rainmakers. Less successful rainmakers, upon hearing that the best friend of their college roommate just became chief of litigation at a company, rush to have lunch with that person and “try to drum up some business,” she says. But more effective rainmakers take existing customers to lunch and get them talking about their needs. Most important, successful rainmakers know how to turn personal and professional relationships into business by asking for the work. She advises ending lunch by saying, “You know, I’d really love to have an opportunity to work with you because I think I can address your needs. How do we go about doing that?”
For Ranis, business development has become a mindset: being aware of the relationship building opportunities that arise in daily interactions.
“All good relationships are connections on an emotional level,” he says. He now knows those connections can happen on the sidelines of a soccer field as easily as at a networking event.
Cindy Krischer Goodman writes regularly on workplace and work life issues. Connect with her at BalanceGal@gmail.com or visit worklifebalancingact.com.